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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Sept13/03)
26 September 2013
Third World Network
 
CSOs urge participants to abandon TISA talks
Published in SUNS #7655 Tuesday 17 September 2013

Geneva, 16 Sep (Kanaga Raja) -- Over 300 civil society organisations (CSOs) worldwide on Monday voiced strong opposition to the plurilateral negotiations on the proposed Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), and called on the participants negotiating the TISA to abandon these talks.
 
Just as participants are convening this week in Geneva, some 341 organisations have sent a letter to governments, arguing that the TISA negotiations largely follow the corporate agenda of using "trade" agreements to bind countries to an agenda of extreme liberalisation and deregulation in order to ensure greater corporate profits at the expense of workers, farmers, consumers and the environment.
 
"Notwithstanding several financial, economic, social and environmental crises, the services rules proposed for the TISA replicate and greatly expand upon the same rules that ‘discipline' government measures and limit policy space for regulation, enshrined in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and free trade agreements (FTAs), which contributed to those crises," said the CSOs.
 
In their letter, the CSOs urged the countries participating in the negotiations, grouped under the so-called "Really Good Friends [of Services] (RGF)", to abandon these talks.
 
The RGF comprises Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Pakistan, Peru, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, the United States, and the 28 member states of the European Union.
 
The CSOs also urged those countries that are not participating in the TISA talks to register their strong opposition to the negotiations and "to pledge never to join any potential future TISA".
 
The CSO letter, which was organised by the Our World is Not for Sale (OWINFS) network, was endorsed by some 42 major international and regional networks as well as numerous other national organisations worldwide.
 
Among the international and regional organisations and networks that signed onto the letter are ACP Civil Society Forum; Africa Trade Network (ATN); Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND); Asian Peasant Coalition (APC); (ATTAC) European Network; Committee for the Cancellation of the Third World Debt (CADTM); Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN); European Federation of Public Services Unions (EPSU); IBON International; IndustriALL Global Union; La Internacional de Servicios Publicos Americas - ISP Americas; LDC Watch; Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG); Public Services International (PSI); Transnational Institute; and UNI Global Union.
 
According to the CSO letter, the proposed agreement is the direct result of systematic advocacy by transnational corporations in banking, energy, insurance, telecommunications, transportation, water, and other services sectors, working through lobby groups like the US Coalition of Service Industries (USCSI) and the European Services Forum (ESF).
 
Pointing out that strong regulation of and oversight over both public and private services is crucial for democracy, the public interest and development, as well as for the orderly functioning of the services market, the CSOs, however, said: "We fear that all of these values and goals would be seriously undermined by this proposed TISA."
 
"Democracy is eroded when decision-making about important sectors - such as financial services (including banking, securities trading, accounting, insurance, etc.), energy, education, healthcare, retail, shipping, telecommunications, legal services, transportation, and tourism - is transferred from citizens, local oversight boards, and local or provincial/state jurisdiction to unaccountable ‘trade' negotiators who have shown a clear proclivity for curtailing regulation and prioritising corporate profits."
 
The letter underscored that the deregulation of the financial sector and capital which was encouraged in part through 1990s-era rules of GATS and FTAs led to the recent global financial crisis and the ensuing worldwide wave of recessions.
 
"The continued suffering by millions from unemployment and austerity measures reminds us that financial sector re-regulation is essential to rebuild stability and forestall future financial and economic crises," the signatories said.
 
The CSOs denounced the ambition of the RGF to bind further service sectors to the deregulatory GATS-like rules (e. g. in Article XVI on Market Access or Article VI on Domestic Regulation) while legislatures move toward re-regulation.
 
"We further reject any plans to adopt new cross-sector restrictions on licensing, technical standards and other domestic regulations (even regulations that affect domestic and foreign businesses alike) that would surpass the existing GATS and FTA rules in restricting governments' and parliaments' right to regulate."
 
In their letter to governments, the CSOs strongly condemned the secretive nature of the TISA talks, in which the citizens, parliamentarians, trade unions, regulating agencies, services users and other interested parties have limited or no access to those who are setting negotiating mandates or to negotiations or negotiating documents, while corporations set the agenda and have easy access to the negotiation documents.
 
"We insist that in such negotiations as for the proposed TISA, negotiating texts must be published, and input from regulatory agencies, public service providers and users, parliamentarians, state and local officials, and civil society organisations must be regularly invited. Parliaments and legislatures must set binding terms for such negotiations, which must not go into effect without a full vote of elected officials."
 
According to the letter, the proposed TISA "is an assault on the public interest as it fails to ensure that foreign investments in service sectors actually promote public goals and sustainable economies."
 
"We are particularly wary of further undermining of essential services such as health care and insurance, water and energy provision, postal distribution, education, public transportation, sanitation, and others if they are handed over to private and foreign corporations motivated only by profits and available only to those who can pay market rates. Therefore, such essential services - including those that operate under a public/private mix, compete with private providers, or charge a fee - should not be subject to any closed-door, unaccountable trade negotiations, including the TISA," the CSOs asserted.
 
They further denounced the intent within the proposed TISA to promote the liberalisation of so-called temporary movement of natural persons, who are actually migrant workers, without guaranteeing legal protections for their human and labour rights.
 
"The movement of workers is outside the competence of trade agreements and must be dealt with as part of the normative tripartite framework of the International Labour Organisation (ILO)," they stressed.
 
The letter further stressed that the proposed TISA also poses a threat to countries that are not participating, further noting that the European Union and the United States have made clear that their intention is to "multilateralise" the negotiations.
 
"We call for vigilance against the determination of the EU and the United States to set the TISA's hyper deregulation and privatisation agenda as the global ‘norm', and to pressure other countries into joining, in particular countries that may accede to the WTO."
 
Further, the letter said, it is not a stretch to consider that once a TISA is concluded, signatory countries would try to act as a bloc in services (GATS) negotiations within the WTO, pushing other countries to meet the TISA level of liberalisation and deregulation, thus contradicting the services negotiating guidelines that WTO members agreed upon by consensus.
 
"We further denounce the TISA as an attempt to advance developed countries' corporate wish lists for services while abandoning commitments made in the WTO's Doha Development Agenda to address developing country concerns, such as fixing existing asymmetries and unfair rules on agriculture."
 
According to the CSOs, the world is still recovering from the greatest global economic downturn in nearly a century, facilitated by the extreme deregulation of the financial services industry. It is clear that strong public oversight over services is necessary to ensure that the public interest is prioritised over private profit.
 
"We reject the TISA that would move our countries in precisely the wrong direction," they said.
 
"We call on our affiliates to urge their national governments to withdraw from talks on this proposed TISA and to mobilise workers and communities against this deal which is an assault on the public interest," said Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of PSI, one of the letter's signatories, in an OWINFS press release.
 
"We believe this deal is about transferring public services into the hands of private and foreign corporations motivated only by profit. This will undermine people's rights and affordable access to vital public services such as healthcare, water and sanitation, energy, education, social services and pensions, and exploit common goods and natural resources," Pavanelli added.

 


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